Why Ground Balls Matter More, Why Barrels and O-Swing Matter, and Other Nerdy Cubs Bullets

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Why Ground Balls Matter More, Why Barrels and O-Swing Matter, and Other Nerdy Cubs Bullets

Chicago Cubs

Are we allowed to talk about Wednesday’s ‘Book of Boba Fett’ episode yet? That whole series has turned into quite a trojan horse to do TOTALLY other stuff, eh? (And I’m fine with it!)

•   I don’t know that – once we got to early January with no talks – I thought a CBA deal would be done by now. But I definitely thought we might be past the “talks started and then shut down because this is egregious!” phase of the process. Instead, based on MLB’s request for a federal mediator and reports that the players are likely to turn that down today, I think we might only just now be starting the phase where everything stops again. I hope I am wrong, but I am expecting a very ugly update later today, and then silence for a while. Who’s ready for some BASEBALL?!?!?!

•   We generally attribute the launch angle revolution to two things: (1) as pitcher stuff and velocity improves, it’s harder and harder to string together hits to generate runs, so balling out for power in the air is simply the smarter statistical play; and (2) better data has led to better and better extreme shifts, meaning hitting it on the ground is even worse than it used to be. But there’s actually a third reason that goes underdiscussed, and I appreciate Tom Verducci highlighting it in his latest: infield defenders are simply getting better and better at converting ground balls into outs! It’s telling how much deeper infielders are playing these days when not shifting – they can cut down more angles, but still make the play with more quickness and stronger arms. I think the first two things are still the primary driver of hitters increasingly looking to produce in the air (even at the expense of whiffs and lazy fly balls). But we shouldn’t forget that infield defenders are simply better these days, and the angles they can create to cut down ground balls are disproportionately improved by their arm talent compared to outfielders.

•   All the more reason for the Cubs, with a groundball-oriented rotation, to ensure they’ve shored up the infield defense as much as possible this offseason. Getting a great defensive shortstop, or at least someone who can rotate around, still seems key.

•   More from the world of interesting statistical info: we’ve explored this concept before, but Eno Sarris further explains why guys whose results underperform their barrel rates are sometimes guys who go the other way more often. We already generally know and understand that it’s harder to generate significant home run power the other way, both because of the nature of the contact and the spin it puts on the ball, and we increasingly have the ability to study and quantify those effects. That’s not to say that going the other way is a bad thing in isolation, but if you don’t have the natural power to support it – or if it isn’t simply a matter of adjusting to a specific pitcher’s approach – then you might actually be doing more harm than good by trying to be an “all fields guy.”

•   Also from that piece, an offering that if you *HAD* to choose just two stats to look at to evaluate offensive performance quickly and project future performance, it would be barrel rate (the rate of batted balls that fall into the the sweet spot of launch angle and exit velocity) and swing rate out of the strike zone (evaluates swing decisions). The best hitters tend to be good at both things, and that just makes logical sense. And where a guy is getting good results in a small sample without being really good at one or both of those things, you should be dubious.

•   Now I bring it back to an exploration we did recently with the striking (league-leading, in one case) disparity between the expected and actual stats for Frank Schwindel, Rafael Ortega, and Patrick Wisdom last year, here’s something: Schwindel was a touch above average in barrel rate, but way above average in O-swing rate (so that’s unnerving); Rafael Ortega was a bit better than average at O-swing rate, but way below average in barrel rate; Patrick Wisdom was hilarious above average in barrel rate, but slightly above average in O-swing rate. So all three have questions on this front, which is consistent with the concerns we’ve raised. But, hey, a reminder that these two stats alone don’t tell you everything. Just consider them a part of the pie.

•   Former Cubs hitting coach Anthony Iapoce is officially joining the Boston Red Sox as a hitting coordinator on the player development side, which is where he was before he started down the big league hitting coach road with the Cubs and Rangers. I suspect he’s good at the job, so that’s a great get for the Red Sox in that role.

•   Marcus Stroman with words of wisdom:

•   The answer among the available choices is clearly number two, but look at this reply:

•   Cubs fans are different:

•   Good on Cedric Mullins:

•   Good morning:


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Author: Brett Taylor

Brett Taylor is the Editor and Lead Cubs Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @BleacherNation and @Brett_A_Taylor.